Category Archives: 32 Chapter Thirty-Two

Eden 32:3

Paris

BethBette pulled paintings from crates of sawdust. One by one she brushed them off gently and sat them around the room, propping them here and there until she had a little gallery in her kitchen.

There were desert landscapes at every time of day; grazing mares and bucking colts; Eden’s sister with her children in her lap; a woman Bette didn’t recognize, drawing water from a well under a blazing sky; three girls, two white, one Negro, arm-in-arm; a beautiful young man with blonde curls but sad eyes, sitting before a rough table in some kitchen; and—Bette gasped quietly—a woman who could only be Eden’s mother, astride a horse, bending forward slightly to stroke its neck with affection, a tiny smile on her lips. A stray lock of bright auburn hair escaped a hastily gathered plait and framed her face, a broad-brimmed straw hat fell over her back, tied across her shoulders with a leather thong and her eyes gazed with unguarded joy at, Bette supposed, her daughter.

It was better than Aphrodite.

Eden 32:2

Joe“Do you ride, Miss Stephens?” Joe asked late the next morning from the kitchen doorway. Eleanor sat at the table with her manuscript before her and a cup of coffee in her hand.

“I hunt sometimes when I’m in the country,” Eleanor answered carefully. She put down her coffee and stepped to the doorway. Over Joe’s shoulder, she could see two horses tied to a post. One wore a western saddle like the ones she’d seen on the horses Lillian and Eden had ridden to the ranch. The other wore an ordinary saddle, and Eleanor felt some relief.

“Can I offer you a tour of the place?”

Eleanor agreed.

The “tour” was really just a ramble through the wilderness as far as Eleanor could tell. After three quarters of an hour of climbing up and around brushy hills, they came to a wide, stone slash in the earth through which a small stream of water trickled. Clumps of twisted, thorny trees with tiny fronds for leaves sat here and there scattered among the small boulders along the creek bed.

Joe dismounted her horse and led it to the edge of the water. The animal drank thirstily and Eleanor followed Joe’s example, dismounting and letting her horse drink too.

Presently, Joe asked “shall we sit in the shade, Miss Stephens?” and gestured to some large flat rocks as if they were a sofa in a well furnished drawing room.

Eleanor let Joe take her horse and tie it to one of the trees. The animals began to nose among the sparse weeds between the stones.

It came to Eleanor that if this were a novel, Joe would have some sinister plan to dispose of her here in the middle of the desert where no one would find her before the ravens had picked clean her bones.

But Joe made no violent overtures. Instead, she sat on the boulder nearest Eleanor’s and contemplated God knows what before breaking the awkward silence.

“Do you think your fortune can buy her?”

Eleanor raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that a rather suspicious-minded way to think about a generous offer to your daughter?”

Joe removed her hat and ran a hand through her hair, making Eleanor think uncannily of Eden. “I have good enough reason to doubt your intentions regarding my family,” she said.

Eleanor’s voice betrayed no trace of guilt. “I have only ever given Eden choices,” she told Joe. “And she has made them freely.”

“Freely? You’ve bound her with your money—at least you seem to hope to.”

“Do you have any idea how successful she is already? How successful she is going to become?” Eleanor asked. “I have done what I could to encourage her…But Eden would be Eden with or without my money.”

“Then why insist she take it?” Joe asked.

“Do you really think she doesn’t want it?” Eleanor frowned at Joe with incredulity. “She only fears you will hate her if she admits that she does.”

Eleanor wished desperately for a cigarette, but patting her pockets, found them damnably empty. “I can’t believe you don’t smoke,” she muttered.

At this, Joe reached into a pocket and pulled out two cigarettes. “Don’t tell Lillian,” she said, handing one to Eleanor and striking a match.

Anticipatory relief calmed Eleanor’s nerves as she leaned towards Joe and the match. “Sometimes, money is a curse, Mr. Smith,” she said.

“Joe.”

Eleanor looked up and met Joe’s eye. “Eleanor,” she said and put out her hand as if they were meeting for the first time. Joe took it for a moment.

“I told her to take it,” Joe said.

Surprise crossed Eleanor’s face. “You did?”

“I told her to be your family. You need one, she says.”

“I suppose I do.”

EleanorJoe eyed Eleanor from beneath the brim of her hat. “Don’t mistake me,” she said. “I don’t trust you. But I trust my daughter. I’ve never known anyone besides her mother who is so honorable, so…loyal.” Joe picked up a stone and turned it over a few times in her hand, then tossed it away. “You’re lucky to know her.”

“Yes,” Eleanor agreed.

Eden 32:1

Supper around Lillian’s kitchen table began pleasantly enough. Joe recounted a funny story about Nate and his new pony, Eden told her parents about Sophia’s research plans and Lillian asked Eleanor about the themes of her next book.

EleanorBut when a silence fell over the company, Eleanor put down her fork and looked directly at Joe. “There is something I came here to tell…all of you.”

Everyone stopped eating. Lillian looked at Eden, who was in turned to Eleanor with some apparent anxiety.

Eleanor wiped her hands slowly on the towel in her lap. “I have made Eden the sole heir of the Stephens estate.”

Lillian looked from her daughter to her guest. “Eleanor…”

But Joe, whom Eden was now watching intently, said nothing.

“Papa—” Eden began. But Joe pushed her chair away from the table and stood. She gave her daughter a silencing look, turned and walked out the kitchen door.

Eden looked at her mother with open panic, but Lily was watching Joe silently. Eden rose and followed her father.

She met Joe at the stable door. She could hear Arrow snort softly in his stall, probably wondering why his master was there at the wrong hour. “Papa?” she said again, squinting into the dark.

“Go on back to your mother,” Joe said without turning to face Eden. She stepped into the tack room, lit a lantern and pulled a bridle from the wall.

Eden stood in the doorway and watched her father take saddle soap and a rag from a trunk, close it and sit down on its lid to clean the bridle. Eden glanced around the room, but found nowhere she might sit herself.

“I told her I didn’t want it,” she said to Joe.

When her father said nothing, Eden went on. “But she’s done it anyway and I can’t do anything about it. She can do as she likes.”

Joe remained quiet for a long moment. “I suppose it’s justice enough that she should take you from us,” she said at last.

“She hasn’t, Papa. She can’t—”

But Joe stopped her, still not meeting her eye. “More than twenty years ago I took another man’s wife, another man’s children…even this ranch—it all came of your mother’s money and another man’s horses.” Joe shook her head. “I’m a pirate. But Eleanor Stephens is a better one.”

“No, papa.”

“I always thought it would be Lillian who would leave. I thought she would wake up one day and see what a fool she’d been to marry me…” she shook her head again.

Eden could barely breathe. A stab of pain twisted her stomach as Joe continued.

“When you were a little child and I saw how it was with you, I started to think that maybe you were mine after all. Your sister is named for my mother. But it was you who really seemed to belong to me. The hardest thing I ever had to do was leave you behind in Boston. And the first time I met her,” Joe nodded vaguely in the direction of the house where Eleanor sat with Lillian, “I knew that one day you’d go back to those people.”

“Back?” Eden said finally. “How could I go back to people I’ve never known?  You and Mama and Minna…you are my people, Papa.”

Joe looked at Eden for the first time since she had left the dinner table. “You’re an alien here, Eden. You’ve always felt so. You’ve always wanted something else, even if you didn’t know what it was.”

It was true. Eden couldn’t deny it. But wasn’t she just as much an alien in Boston? In Paris? If Arizona wasn’t her home, what place was?

“You know I did my best to turn you into a rancher.” Joe raised the bridle before her and inspected it, turning it this way and that. “But that’s not who you are. Did you know it was me who told your mother that? It was me who said that you weren’t really like me—that what we had here wasn’t what you needed.”

“But that’s just it, Papa,” Eden said. “Eleanor is so much like you.”

“Like me?” Eden had truly surprised her father.

“She would spare nothing to give me what I need, though she doesn’t know what that is. I don’t need her money.” Eden caught her father’s eye so that Joe would see that she was sincere. “But she needs to give it to me.”

“What do you need, Eden?” Joe asked finally.

Eden was silent, trying on words in her mind. It came to her that what she didn’t have in Boston, in Paris, in London—anywhere but Arizona—was the sense that her father would be as welcome there as she was. The few times she’d been with Joe in Boston, she’d felt it keenly that her father chafed uncomfortably against the people and places and interests Eden had collected there. It kept Eden herself slightly out of step with these new aspects of her own life. There was always a part of her looking at everything through Joe’s eyes, imagining the eyes aroundher looking at Joe. To be anywhere but Arizona required Eden to leave

Joe

that part of herself that was Joe’s daughter behind. And yet, what need had Arizona for a society portrait painter?

“I need…” Eden began but stopped. She gathered the courage to meet her father’s eye and finished, “both of you.”